The similar names Arbadella and Arbedella both debuted in the SSA baby name data in 1936, and both saw peak usage the following year:
8 baby girls
7 baby girls
12 baby girls
5 baby girls
33 baby girls [peak]
9 baby girls [peak]
6 baby girls [debut]
6 baby girls [debut]
What was the influence?
The radio serial Amos & Andy — one of the very first situation comedies. The initial version of the show (1928-1943) aired for 15 minutes, five days per week, and was the most popular radio program in the nation in the late 1920’s and early 30’s. In fact, the show’s “popularity ensured the success of radio broadcasting as a form of mass entertainment.”
The show “was based on the model of minstrel shows, [and] thus based on racial stereotypes.” The main characters — African-American men named Amos Jones and Andy Brown — were played by white radio performers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll.
In an episode that aired during October of 1936, Amos and his wife Ruby welcomed their first child, a baby girl. The baby wasn’t named right away — instead, the show’s sponsor, Pepsodent Tooth Paste, held a baby-naming contest.
The contest was advertised in newspapers nationwide. The ads noted that the judges would consider “originality, uniqueness, and suitability” when making their decision, and also offered some name-choosing prompts, such as:
“…you might think “Amanda” would be a suitable name because it contains so many of the letters of both “Amos” and “Andy.””
“…remember, too, the baby’s maternal grandmother is named Lillian.”
Thousands of prizes were offered, including a $5,000 grand prize. Here’s the full list (and what the prizes would be worth in today’s dollars):
1st: $5,000 in baby bonds (equivalent to $92,183.93 in 2020)
2nd: $1,000 in baby bonds ($18,436.79)
3rd: $100 baby bond to each of 10 winners ($1,843.68)
4th: $50 baby bond to each of 100 winners ($921.84)
5th: $25 baby bond to each of 720 winners ($460.92)
6th: $2 cash to each of 2000 winners ($36.87)
The contest closed in mid-November. The winning name, Arbadella — suggested by Mrs. Joseph L. Smith of Ohio — was announced in mid-December. (The second-place name, Ladicia Ann, was suggested by 12-year-old Indiana boy Urcel D. Miller.)
The late-in-the-year announcement of the winning name accounts for why the baby name Arbadella (and spelling variant Arbedella) debuted in the data in 1936, but saw even higher usage in 1937.
After welcoming Arbadella, Amos and Ruby went on to have two more children: Amos, Jr., and Amosandra. Neither of these fictional babies had a discernible impact on U.S. baby names, though.
What are your thoughts on the name Arbadella? Do you like it?
P.S. Norita was also a contest-winning name of the 1930s…
P.P.S. In the early 1950s, The Amos ‘n Andy Show aired on television. This time around, the characters were played by African-American actors. Despite good ratings, the show was cancelled after two years due to pressure from the NAACP.
No, I’m not talking about the evil doll. I’m talking about the baby names Chucky and Chuckie, which both emerged in the U.S. baby name data in the late 1940s:
16 baby boys
20 baby boys
23 baby boys
17 baby boys
7 baby boys
11 baby boys
6 baby boys [debut]
10 baby boys
5 baby boys
Because, around this time, a baby/young boy named Chuckie was being featured on the popular radio soap opera The Guiding Light.
In 1948, the soap began to focus on the Bauer family, particularly Meta [MAY-tah] Bauer. That year Meta conceived a child out of wedlock with Ted White.
After she gave birth to a baby boy (either in late 1948 or early 1949) she gave him up for adoption. The adoptive parents chose to name him Charles after the pastor who’d helped arrange the adoption.
During 1949, but both Meta and Ted decided they wanted the baby back, so young Chuckie became the object of two separate custody lawsuits (one filed by Meta, the other by Ted). Chuckie was given back to Meta, so Ted decided then to marry her (early 1950) solely in order to have access to his son. But the marriage didn’t work, Meta left, and she initiated yet another custody battle for Chuckie.
By mid-1950 Chuckie was somehow old enough to be taking boxing lessons (Ted’s idea) and ended up with a severe head injury. He slipped into a coma for a few weeks, then died in September. (Days later, Meta shot and killed Ted.)
Chuckie’s tragic death likely accounts for the higher usage of Chuckie in 1951.
But both names see their highest usage in 1961 specifically:
23 baby boys
31 baby boys
45 baby boys
36 baby boys
26 baby boys
31 baby boys
This looks to be due to a different Chuckie entirely — a mischievous blonde boy named Chuckie who was the focus of a Leave It to Beaver episode called “Chuckie’s New Shoes” that aired in December of 1960.
Do you like the name Chuckie? Would you use it as a legal name, or do you prefer it as a nickname for Charles?
The unusual baby name Dewilla debuted in the baby name data in 1935:
1937: 6 baby girls named Dewilla
1935: 8 baby girls named Dewilla [debut]
What put it there initially?
A murder that began as a mystery.
On November 24, 1934, the bodies of three slain girls were discovered in the woods near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The case was dubbed the “babes in the woods” mystery by the press.
After about a week, the police were able to identify the bodies as belonging to sisters Dewilla Noakes (age 10) and Cordelia Noakes (age 8), and their older half-sister Norma Sedgwick (age 12).
They were originally from Roseville, California, and had recently traveled east with their father, Elmo, and his teenage niece, Winifred — both of whom were later found shot to death over 100 miles away in Altoona. Contemporary sources guessed that Elmo and Winifred were on the run because they were in an illicit relationship.
That doesn’t explain how or why the three girls ended up dead in Pennsylvania, though. The assumption is that Elmo suffocated them, but his motive isn’t known for sure. (Perhaps the family was out of money and Elmo didn’t want the girls to starve.)
This sensationalized, Depression-era crime happened around the same time that Charles Lindbergh‘s baby boy was kidnapped (1932) and the boy’s murderer was captured and put on trial (1934 to 1936).
Do you like the name Dewilla? (How about the names Cordelia and Norma?)